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Volume 11, No. 1, April 2001

Table of Contents

Tasknet debate and its relevance to the G8-Dotforce consultation

B. Shadrach 
Loughborough University, UK


Tasknet was initiated in 1999 by a number of key organizations of the south Asian region. The aim of this coalition was to find best ways and means to turn the information revolution into a force for economic development, social cohesion and poverty alleviation in the DCs of the region.  As the first step towards a knowledge partnership and a forerunner to the GK-II conference, Tasknet organized a conference in Delhi in November 1999.  As a follow-up to these events, the British Council and OneWorld International, to discuss a number of outstanding issues that emerged out of these conferences, initiated Tasknet Debate in September-December 2000.  This report summarizes the Tasknet Debate's recommendations for the Global Knowledge Partnership dotforce that have direct relevance to the priorities identified in the Okinawa Charter on Global Information Society.

Tasknet Debate Themes

The debate centred around four significant themes.

Access:  Solutions to the multidimensional 'divides', such as monopolies, cost, infrastructure, urban versus rural and gende.

Content:  People-centred approach to knowledge sharing, creation of 'public spaces' and appropriate, needs-based indigenous content development. 

Technology:  Use of convergent technologies and open systems to ensure the appropriate use of ICTs in creation of knowledge societies.

Empowerment: The role of ICT in poverty alleviation, community work, rural development, gender and grassroots empowerment and social inclusion.

Although the debate took place around these four themes, the summary points have been drawn keeping in mind the themes outlined in the ongoing G8-Dotforce consultation and the Okinawa Charter on Global Information Society.  Full details of the debate can be found at the Tasknet debate site at http://www.tasknet.nic.in

Tasknet debate was seen as a welcome initiative, not only for organizations in South Asia, but also for rest of the individuals and organizations worldwide interested in South Asia. Such debates should be organized from time to time as an ongoing scientific process of consultation and as a platform for identifying critical problems and challenges in the region.

Tasknet secretariat could become an umbrella organization for initiating joint-actions to the problems identified by partners and as a lobby that moves governments and private operators towards playing a more competitive, transparent and pro-active role in creating a greater enabling environment. Tasknet partners have the necessary skills and resource to help governments assess their ICT capabilities against ground realities and grass-root level requirements.

Fostering policy, regulatory and network readiness

A few state governments in South Asia are increasingly introducing e-governance while the majority rest are not yet ready to do so; lack of capacity, knowledge and understanding of technologies being the main reasons for this slow progress.  Building capacity among national and state government machinery will result in more inclusive and pro-active IT policies in the region.

Although illiteracy and population related problems are seen as the propagators of digital-divide, experts felt that strengthening ICT infrastructure with a social development agenda would result in narrowing the divide.  Hence, members recommended that enough funding opportunities were made available for further research to determine the effects of ICTs on poverty alleviation.

Discussants strongly opposed the emerging dialogue that aims at protecting the intellectual property rights for IT-related technologies.  They felt that the costs levied for IT products and services were the main factors of the digital divide.  Hence, they called for joint-actions for developing open systems and platforms that encourage more effective and greater utilization of IT in development efforts. 

Support to developmental efforts by corporate bodies is just in slogans and mission statements, the discussants opined.  In addition to this plight, NGOs and development organizations do not have the necessary skills to attract corporate sponsorship.  Building capacity among development organizations in order to attract corporate involvement in development projects will help greatly.

More and more donor help in encouraging private-public partnerships in ICT assessment projects is needed.

Tax incentives to individuals buying PCs and employers buying home PCs for employees will help South Asia emerge as a knowledge-based economy.

Improving connectivity, increasing access and lowering cost

Participants felt the need for mobilizing resources to improve information and communications infrastructure in the region.  Further, they agreed that efforts to create symbiotic spaces and innovative approaches to foster private, public and community partnerships should be encouraged.

Although the need for increasing community access points was widely felt, members argued that individual access alone could help in life-long learning opportunities.

Recycling of computers discarded by corporate organizations will help a number of development organizations and schools in South Asia.  Tasknet can facilitate such an initiative.

The main problems of digital divide are not illiteracy or overpopulation, but the overwhelming access and connectivity costs.  While citing a recent experiment of IT use among children living in slums in India, members welcomed the idea of strengthening initiatives such as Simputer and DSL Dishnet that provides access to women and children for a one-time payment of Rs. 250/- (US$ 6) for five years. 

South Asian IT professionals are fast emerging as techno-coolies for the west.  Even those who are involved in IT development activities within the region, are not developing applications that address the multi-faceted problems of the region. Initiatives that develop locale-specific content and applications in vernacular languages must be encouraged.

Participants further argued for the need for preserving cultural identity of the region in the light of globalisation. 

Building human capacity

Technology exchange programmes aimed at NGOs, and involving corporate organizations, national governments and donor agencies will help.

Building capacity to determine the effects of ICTs on poverty alleviation is the need of the hour.

IT students should be encouraged to undertake development oriented projects and should be motivated to become IT volunteers for developmental efforts.  Initiatives such as NetAid should become more pro-active and aggressive in their approach to recruit IT volunteers from the region, and share their expertise with local volunteers.

Even in the west a number of disadvantaged groups are left out of the technology and the new media.  Participants, hence felt the need for collaborative ICT solutions that may have application for the marginalised in the west and the rural population in South Asia.

Training support for developing voice recognition software on South Asian languages in a large scale will help.

Although the Tasknet debate was not specifically set up as a dotforce consultation exercise, many of the issues raised have direct relevance to the priorities identified in the Okinawa Charter that Dotforce of the Global Knowledge Partnership may wish to take note of.  In order to take full advantage of the expertise that exists in the South Asia network, it is recommended that similar debates are held time to time with the help of Tasknet partners.